Robert Sinnerbrink

Robert Sinnerbrink

Macquarie University


Moral Perception, Imagination, and Emotion: Exploring Cinematic Experience

Adelaide Workshop 2017

The power of cinema to elicit emotional and cognitive engagement has become the focus of much philosophical film theory. In this paper, I explore the relationship between moral perception, imagination and emotion in our experience of cinematic works, focusing on the nexus between emotional engagement and moral imagination in evaluating narrative film. While most theorists have focused on emotional engagement, I consider cases of “emotional estrangement” and moral-cognitive dissonance, where familiar forms of emotional response are disrupted. In such cases, viewers are prompted to re-evaluate or transform their emotional responses and moral attitudes towards characters and actions depicted within the cinematic world. The exercise of moral imagination through cinema, I argue, often requires emotional estrangement and moral-cognitive dissonance as well as emotional engagement and moral consensus. From this perspective, certain films can engage in cinematic forms of “moral argument” that may contribute to philosophical reflection and ethical understanding